Go to Contents Go to Navigation

(Yonhap Feature) New documentary about Kim Duk-koo set for release 30 years after his death

All Headlines 09:00 August 17, 2012

By Eugene Hwang
Contributing writer

SEOUL, Aug. 17 (Yonhap) -- Kim Duk-koo was a national hero on his way to the top. He was the highest-ranked boxer in the lightweight class in Asia, and he was going for the world title against Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini in Las Vegas. No one even imagined that the match would kill him.

"I remember exactly where I was," explained Kim Min-gil. "I was a child and my parents and I were gathered around the TV as the news anchor explained what had happened... That was 30 years ago, but I still remember it like it was yesterday."

Such was the weight of the match as seen from the eyes of an average Korean. Even those who were not boxing fans were watching Kim, 23, clearly the underdog, go up against Mancini on Nov. 13, 1982. Also at home watching the match was Lee Young-mi, Kim's pregnant fiance.

Kim was knocked out in the 14th round. Following the bout, the Korean boxer collapsed into a coma. He died four days later. His mother, who flew to Las Vegas to be with her son, committed suicide three months later by drinking pesticide. Wracked with guilt over the death of a fighter in the match he called, referee Richard Green also committed suicide a year later. Mancini was profoundly affected by Kim's death as well, never regaining his force in the ring. He lost his title two years later to Livingston Bramble and then faded into obscurity.

The fiance gave birth to a son, Kim Ji-wan.

Kim's death changed the rules of the game. Boxing matches were limited to 12 rounds instead of 15, and steps were taken in the following years to protect fighters.

The story of Kim Duk-koo had always weighed on the mind of sports media in Korea, and in 2000, a dramatization of the events leading to his death and some of the aftermath was made into a movie entitled "Champion." Though that film was well received, it was anything but the definitive work on the story of Kim and Mancini. That definitive work, perhaps, will be unveiled very soon.

In September, a new documentary about Ray Mancini and the aftermath of his fight with Kim Duk-koo is set to be released in the United States. Directed by Jesse James Miller of Saint Sophia Productions and entitled "The Good Son," the film is based on a book of the same name. The book is somewhat of a biography of the Italian-American boxer, written by bestselling author Mark Kriegel.

Christopher Tavlarides, the co-executive producer of the documentary, explained the difference between the 2000 dramatization and his documentary. "'Champion' was fictionalized, but this is actually a real live, 90-minute documentary film," he said.

"Champion" was made without any consultation with the Kim family, Tavlarides emphasized, so there were a few artistic liberties that had to be taken to make it into a full story. Also absent in "Champion" is the severe sense of guilt that Mancini could never shake off following the fight, that oftentimes the media would constantly remind him of.

The title of the book is "The Good Son: The Ray Mancini Story," and focuses primarily on Mancini and the relationship he had with his father. The film's title is simply "The Good Son," which leaves a bit of ambiguity that Tavlarides said was done on purpose.

The documentary, like the book, delves into the relationship that Ray Mancini had with his own father, but it places a lot more emphasis on Kim Duk-koo's son Ji-wan, exploring the relationship that he has with the father that he never met. The title of the film therefore could refer to either Mancini or Kim Ji-wan, or both.

"Young-mi, Kim's fiance, was three months pregnant when Kim Duk-koo died, and she gave birth to this wonderful young man who did not find out about his famous father until he was in 11th grade," Tavlarides said.

Quite possibly the most groundbreaking scene in the documentary is when the mother and son fly to the U.S. to meet Mancini for the first time after Kim's death.

This scene necessitated that half of the documentary had to be focused on the Kim family because "we had to let the viewers know who both boxers really were, and we think that we achieved that by going over their lives and their ascent to becoming champions in great detail," Tavlarides explained.

Tavlarides was somewhat reluctant to give away everything that had transpired in that particular part of the documentary, but he explained some of the initial fears Mancini had prior to the meeting.

Mancini was afraid that Kim's son "would feel hatred for (him) and lash out at him. (Ji-wan) did feel some initial hatred but that quickly changed as Ray and Ji-wan got to know one another. Kim Ji-wan is one of the finest young men I have ever met. Duk-koo would be very proud of him," Tavlarides said.

In the Kim-centered half of the film, Kim Ji-wan visits his father's grave for the second time in his life, and first since finding out exactly who his father was. He comes to the conclusion that even though he has never met his father, he knows that his father loved him because he fought so hard to make a better life for his mother and himself.

Lee Young-mi said in interviews conducted for the documentary that she viewed the meeting as if she felt like she was going to visit an old friend.

Prior to the meeting, Mancini is shown wondering exactly what he should say to the son of the man he killed.

"So what's left to be said? Sometimes, some things are better left unsaid. Maybe when I shake his hand, I just give him a hug? Maybe that'll bring closure for him, for me, for my children? I think at that moment, I'm going to feel a sense of relief, a sense of peace, and I hope he finds the same," Mancini said in a trailer for the documentary.

At the moment, there are two trailers of the documentary that can be viewed online. One is directed at an American audience and features Ray Mancini very prominently. The other trailer is clearly directed at a Korean audience, and shows parts of interviews with Kim's fiance, son and trainer.

Tavlarides said that two trailers were made because the American release should be more in line with the book, which is primarily about the life of Ray Mancini, but a Korean release of the documentary is also planned, which is why the second trailer focuses completely on Kim.

The film is slated for a limited theatrical release in the U.S. in September 2012, and Tavlarides hopes to release the film in Korea on November 13, 2012, which is exactly 30 years after the fateful boxing match. The production company is currently in discussions with some of Korea's largest media companies.

(The trailers can be seen on the Web site for the documentary at www.thegoodsondocumentary.com)


Send Feedback
How can we improve?
Thanks for your feedback!